It has been on the boil for over 100 years. Born in the first decades of the VFL, and fanned into flames during the Great Depression and two world wars, it has broken marriages, split life-long friendships and started riots. It has been a focus of every level of Australian society - from Prime Ministers to pensioners, from Archbishops to barmaids. And it has been typified by some of the most controversial and passionate games of Australian football ever played. It is Carlton versus Collingwood – still the greatest and most enduring rivalry in Australian sport.

For football supporters born in the modern (AFL) era of Australia’s national game, the depth of ill-feeling between Carlton and Collingwood football clubs can be seen as anachronistic; a throw-back to the days of inner-Melbourne suburban rivalry. But to those who are second, third or even fourth generation Blues or Magpies, any victory over the other on the field is still the next best thing to winning a flag. As current Collingwood President Eddie McGuire is fond of saying; ‘no season is wasted if we get at least two wins – Carlton at home, and Carlton away.’

Part 1 – The Early Years: 1897 - 1945

The causes and reasons for the intensity of that feeling can be traced throughout the history of both clubs. From their earliest days, they were divided on social and religious grounds - Collingwood was a deprived area of tanneries, breweries and shoe factories, and for many years recruited only Catholics - while Carlton was always a secular club based in a middle-class suburb and administered by tradesmen, businessmen and the odd entrepreneur. Collingwood saw Princes Park as a bastion of privilege, while the Blues dismissed their rivals from the other side of Nicholson Street as ignorant and ill-informed. Neither view was strictly correct; the primary support for both clubs was solidly working class – but the gulf between them was a wide one.

Therefore, Collingwood’s early success in the VFL – they won consecutive Premierships in 1902 and ’03 - gave the founding members of the black and white army the huge chips on their shoulders that their successors still flaunt today. In Carlton’s view, Collingwood’s claim that what was good for Collingwood was good for the game, was arrogant and near-sighted. The Navy Blues’ magnificent hat-trick of flags in 1906, ’07 and ’08 under Jack Worrall balanced the ledger, but it wasn’t until the 1910 final series that hostilities between the looming power bases really burst into the open.
Jack Baquie
The two clubs met for the first time in a VFL Grand Final in 1910. Collingwood were holding sway just after three-quarter time, when a huge brawl erupted, involving Jack Baquie (picture inset) and Percy Sheehan of Carlton, and Tom Baxter and Tom Shorten of Collingwood. At least thirty players and officials joined in, before field umpire Jack Elder cleared the area by bouncing the ball and calling ‘play on.’ Collingwood hung on to win by 14 points, and umpire Elder immediately reported all four players on a variety of charges.

Then, as now, football violence was seen as a blight on the game, and the VFL came down hard on the culprits. Baquie and Baxter were promptly suspended for the entire 1911 season, while Sheehan and Shorten were each handed 18-month sentences. But more controversy ensued when Collingwood appealed on Baxter’s behalf, and produced a written declaration from another of their players, Richard Daykin, that it was him - not Baxter - who had traded blows with Baquie.

In a time before players wore individual numbers, umpire Elder was adamant that the Collingwood player he reported had dark hair (a view supported by at least one other boundary or goal umpire). ‘Bluey’ Daykin’s hair was bright red – yet the VFL chose to accept Daykin’s confession of guilt, and cleared Baxter of all charges. Collingwood therefore regained their star rover for their Premiership defence in 1911, while Carlton faced a full season without first-choice defenders Baquie and Sheehan. Furthermore, Daykin added to Carlton’s fury and escaped any further recriminations when he announced his immediate retirement. It was a sordid episode, and the first low blow landed by Collingwood in what was to be a long and bitter conflict. However, the Blues vowed that the matter would not be forgotten.

While hard physical clashes were part and parcel of every Carlton-Collingwood match from then on, the strength of both clubs was manifested in the quality of the football played, and the passion involved in each and every contest. Of the 15 games between them after that 1910 Grand Final, ten were decided by 15 points or less – including a draw, two 2-point results, and three with a 1-point margin. Many of those clashes have gone down in history as classic matches; willing contests that showcased our game in some of its finest moments.

The game at Princes Park on the King’s Birthday weekend in 1915 was later described as the best of the war years. A huge crowd of 30,000 packed into the ground to see Collingwood’s Dick Lee kick nine of his side’s ten goals, in a thriller that went to the ‘Pies by 2 points. And the return game at Victoria Park was even better – Carlton played disciplined team football to overhaul Collingwood after half time, and win by one point. But the sweetest day of all for Carlton fans came in that season’s Grand Final, when the Blues and the Maggies faced off again for the flag – and revenge for the events of 1910 was to be Carlton’s at last.

On the morning of the match, two of Collingwood’s stars; ‘Doc’ Seddon and Paddy Rowan, were sent on a ten-mile (16 kilometre) route march, by their commander at Broadmeadows army camp. Both players were late arriving at the MCG, and barely made it in time for the first bounce. The game was another epic, described by Jack Worrall in The Australasian as; ‘a glorious contest – one of the grandest that has ever been seen in the finals,’ until Carlton kicked away from a tiring Collingwood in the last ten minutes, to win by 33 points. Immediately afterward, there was unbridled glee at Princes Park, and rage in the streets of Collingwood when it was widely rumoured (but never officially confirmed) that the Broadmeadows camp commander was a keen Carlton supporter.

When Collingwood completed their record run of four consecutive Premierships in 1930, it took their total to nine, and stretched their advantage over 5-time Premiers Carlton. Even so, throughout their most dominant period of 1926 to 1931, their ten matches against the Blues produced five wins apiece. Meanwhile, the world-wide Great Depression had devastated the Australian economy, bringing massive unemployment and widespread deprivation. For VFL footballers, the game was their salvation – but they still had to play well, and play often, to put food on their family’s table. Competition for places in every team was fierce, and winning more important than ever. Throughout the ‘thirties, football progressively became harder, faster and considerably more desperate.

It wasn’t until 1938 that Carlton and Collingwood contested another Grand Final, and yet again, sensation and controversy weren’t far away. One of the turning points of that season came in a remarkable match at Victoria Park in late May. Collingwood were in front by 39 points at half time, and their champion full-forward Ron Todd ended the match with 11 goals – yet they still lost!
Bob Chitty.jpg
In a spectacular second half, Carlton piled on 13 goals to Collingwood’s five, and won easing up by 16 points. As the teams left the field, Magpie captain Harry Collier was seen arguing with Carlton’s Jack Carney, before hauling off and punching Carney in the face. A near-riot ensued, as players, trainers and dozens of supporters of both teams jumped the fence and attacked each other.

When police reinforcements restored order at last, and charges were laid, Collier’s exemplary record (it was his first report in 13 years) couldn’t save him. He was suspended for the rest of the season, and could only watch on in September as Carlton snatched the 1938 Premiership from the Magpies by 15 points.

By the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Jock McHale was in his 27th season as coach of the Magpies. An intense, single-minded character, his attitude was summed up by an incident early in his coaching career when, after a defeat by the Blues at Princes Park, a Carlton committee member asked him; ‘are you coming for a drink, Jock?’ to which he replied, ‘stick your drink up your a***.’ Throughout his long tenure at Collingwood, he ordered that the hot water was to be turned off in the visitor’s rooms at Victoria Park before each game against Carlton. More than any other figure, it was Hale who stoked the furnace of Collingwood’s contempt and hatred for the Blues.

McHale’s counterpart at Carlton was Bob Chitty – the Blues’ fearsome on-field leader, and like McHale, a man often fanatical in his pursuit of victory. When these two clashed at the helm of their respective clubs in the 1945 Preliminary Final at Princes Park, all hell broke loose. Intent on roughing up the Blues’ skilful defence, Collingwood included their enforcer Len Hustler, who ironed out Blues’ full-back Vin Brown off the ball in the first quarter, and told every Carlton player in earshot that he was ready to do it again. From then on the match was a series of running brawls in which fists, elbows and even boots were freely used.

In the second quarter, Chitty shirt-fronted Collingwood’s Des Fothergill, and when he recovered, Chitty decked him again - and again. At half-time, a bruised and battered Fothergill asked Jack Hale; ‘what am I supposed to do?’ McHale replied; ‘Be a man.’ Even so, Collingwood still seemed headed for a comfortable victory early in the last quarter, before the Blues came charging back to score 7.3 in 18 minutes of superb, unstoppable football. Carlton won easing up by 10 points, and afterward, was relieved to have only one player reported.

Another 25 seasons were to pass before Carlton met Collingwood again in a Grand Final, but when they did, the occasion was so momentous, that any history of the rivalry should logically be divided into two phases; pre-1945, when the contest was at its fiercest and most even; and post-World War II, when Carlton’s magnificent Grand Final victory in 1970 - from a half-time deficit of 44 points – destroyed Collingwood’s finals aspirations for more than a decade, and galvanised forever the depth of ill-feeling between the two clubs.

Part 2 – Post War and Beyond: 1946 - 2008

Since the end of World War II, while the game of Australian football has evolved from a fiercely suburban, one-city competition into the country’s dominant national code, the passionate and deep-seated rivalry between the Navy Blues of Carlton and the Collingwood Magpies has continued unabated.

During that half-century, Collingwood has won three flags. On the way, it has also dragged itself out of its birthplace in the inner-city slums, re-invented itself, and nowadays is ever-eager to talk about its ‘brand.’ Meanwhile, Carlton has collected eight Premierships, and plunged into a series of on and off-field disasters that condemned the Blues to a new low point in our club’s proud history in 2002.

Even so, throughout those calamities, Carlton’s ingrained hunger for the contest against Collingwood has never waned. Between 2002 and 2008, while the Blues languished at the foot of the 16-team AFL ladder in disarray, and the Magpies were regular finalists, the teams met on 14 occasions. Collingwood won 8 times, and Carlton six – clearly demonstrating that the fear and envy of the Navy Blues that permeated Victoria Park for ninety years, crossed town with them to the Lexus Centre.

After the sensations and controversies of the wartime clashes between Carlton and Collingwood that culminated in the infamous 1945 Preliminary Final brawl, any game between the pair after that was tinged with spite, and rarely failed to draw huge crowds. As Carlton’s Jim Baird once remembered; ‘At Collingwood you were never invited into the rooms after the game for a drink. Every other club did that, but they were very intense, especially under (Jock) McHale. He thought there was Collingwood and no other side. It was the intensity – that’s what I remember. You’d often find no hot water in the showers, and the crowd was very vocal. It was safer to be on the ground than in the outer.’

Collingwood’s Premiership victories in ’53 and '58 were followed up by Grand Final losses in 1960, ’64 and ’66. During that time, the Magpies vied with the Melbourne Demons for the title of team of the decade, while Carlton was enduring a period later called the Dark Years. Hamstrung by dissension at committee level and struggling on the field, the Blues were a mediocre side, until the inspirational appointment of Melbourne champion Ron Barassi as captain-coach of the club in 1965.

Barassi brought with him a shared hatred of Collingwood, in the wake of the Demon’s shock loss to the Magpies in the 1958 Grand Final. Had Melbourne won, they would have equalled Collingwood’s feat of claiming four consecutive flags. But wet weather and all-out aggression won the day for the Pies. Barassi later admitted that he took that defeat personally, and one of the reasons why he accepted the coaching job at Carlton was a fierce desire for revenge against Collingwood.
Provided with thanks by the Carlton Football Club in commemmoration of Harris's great service to the Club Barassi’s impact at Princes Park was immediate, and profound. Within four years, his Blues narrowly beat Essendon in a dour struggle for the 1968 flag, and less than a year later, drew first blood against Collingwood in September with an emphatic five-goal win in the 1969 second Semi Final. Richmond ended up Premiers that year, but as a new and exciting age of football loomed, the stage was set for another series of spectacular clashes between the two most popular and powerful clubs in the game.

Carlton’s 1970 Grand Final victory over Collingwood is one of many pinnacles in the rich history of the Blues. Won by a stroke of tactical genius from a near-impossible position at half time, that extraordinary match is still considered the greatest Grand Final triumph of them all. Trailing by 44 points at the long break, Barassi inspired his team in the second half, telling them to run Collingwood ragged by playing on at every opportunity, and to create space by using handball as the first option. The idea worked superbly - the Blues powered home over the top the Pies and won by 10 points.

But the real and lasting legacy of Barassi’s feat was that it cemented the Blues self-belief for the next twenty years. And by inflicting Collingwood’s fourth Grand Final defeat in ten seasons, it signalled the birth of the ‘Colliwobbles’ - a name dreamed up by commentator Lou Richards (himself a former Collingwood captain) to explain the Magpies’ September jitters. With each barren season, Collingwood’s frustration grew. Burdened by the expectations of a supporter base constantly demanding redemption - and not renowned for its patience - the pressure on every Magpie player was enormous. And the focus of that anger was Carlton.

Blues’ legend John Nicholls remembered his forays to Victoria Park during the sixties and early seventies this way; ‘It was a nightmare of a place to go to, and hard to win there, but if you won it was exhilarating. You had to be wary where you parked in case your car got vandalised. Then on the way onto the ground they’d abuse you, and spit on you as you ran down the race. Then if you did something like flatten (Collingwood captain) Des Tuddenham – they’d really love you for that!’

For his part, Tuddenham was just as forthright. ‘I remember walking across after a game at Princes Park once when we’d beaten them, and there was a lady who chased me all the way across, screaming out things like; ‘you’re a mongrel, Tuddenham!’ After another match a lady hit me over the head with an umbrella and called me a ‘filthy bastard.’ Carlton supporters hated me, but I didn’t mind too much. It’s an amazing thing - the supporters really dislike each other immensely.’

And they really disliked each other after more controversy in 1979 – which began with a ferocious shirtfront handed out by Collingwood’s Stan Magro on Carlton’s captain-coach Alex Jesaulenko in the second quarter of the round 10 match at Princes Park in early June. Jezza was running with the flight of the ball; arms outstretched, looking likely to pull in another ‘finger-tipper’ when Magro came steaming from the opposite direction, and crashed straight through him with a thunderous hip and shoulder that knocked Carlton’s champion out cold.

The Blues came from everywhere to even up, while Jesaulenko was being carted off to hospital. Collingwood held on to a decisive five goal lead at half time, but in the second half, the fired-up Blues came charging back into the contest. Late in the game Magro claimed another scalp when he decked Carlton’s Alex Marcou, and that second strike by the Magpie hitman sparked another all-in. Four players ended up on report, but the resolute Blues finished better for a great 16-point victory.

Carlton’s future captain Mike Fitzpatrick was convinced that that win set up the 1979 Premiership. ‘We’d been knocked around both physically and on the scoreboard’, he said, ‘but we decided to take them on. I’m not sure we won the fight, but we certainly won the game. That match was the making of the ’79 side.’

Perhaps equally so, what made the team that beat Collingwood yet again for the 1979 Premiership was a team of champions, led by Jesaulenko, Fitzpatrick, Bruce Doull, Wayne Johnston, Geoff Southby, Jimmy Buckley – and of course, Norm Smith Medallist Wayne Harmes – whose desperate chase, dive and swipe at the ball in the forward pocket, clinched the flag. While Collingwood fans howled in futile hope that the ball had slid across the boundary line before Harmes’ fist made contact, Ken Sheldon was waiting in the goal square to collect it, and kick the sealer. Collingwood fans have raged about the ball being out of bounds ever since, but Sheldon disagreed.

‘Everyone talks about the Harmes incident,’ he said, ‘but the real strength of that piece of play was the sheer belief he had in his team-mates. I’d played and trained with him enough to know that he would never give up the chase. So I kept running down to the goal square, fully believing that he’d get the ball across, and he did.’ Collingwood fans were further outraged in the following days, after Carlton President George Harris stepped up to the microphone at Princes Park during the celebrations and asked the crowd; ‘what’s better than beating Collingwood by ten goals? Beating them by five points in a Grand Final!’

The misery continued for Collingwood when the Pies lost their fourth Grand Final in five years in 1980. For a change, it was Richmond who inflicted the pain (by a record margin of 81 points) to show that the Colliwobbles were still haunting the bowels of Victoria Park – but there was worse to come when the football gods decreed that the Navy Blues and the Magpies would face off again for the 1981 flag.

Despite starting the ’81 Grand Final as warm favourites, Carlton trailed a desperate Collingwood by 21 points just before three-quarter time, before two quick goals in succession trimmmed the lead to nine points at the break. ‘That match was an absolute slog,’ Carlton coach David Parkin later said. ’It was drizzly and difficult, with minimal difference between the scores throughout. Not a great spectacle, but a truly great contest – tight, tough – a classical confrontation. Collingwood had worked so hard to get there, it was going to be difficult for them to find something if we headed them – and that was the way it worked out.’

At the three-quarter time huddle, there was a fiery altercation between Collingwood’s Ricky Barham, and a Magpie committee member. David Parkin saw what was happening, and used it to rally his men. ‘Look’ he said; ‘they’re falling apart.’ And that is precisely what happened. Carlton booted four goals to nil in the last quarter, and equalled Collingwood’s tally of 13 Premierships with a 20-point victory.
For a decade after that memorable afternoon, Carlton and Collingwood’s paths diverged for the first time in half a century. While Carlton went on to even more Premiership glory in 1982 and 1987, Collingwood descended into resentment and acrimony. No longer the most successful team in the competition; no longer the benchmark, they imploded at committee level, and soon elected a reform group called the New Magpies – who were so obsessed with the curse of the Colliwobbles, that they ordered that all honour boards, portraits and trophies were to be taken down from the walls at Victoria Park.

Eventually, sanity prevailed, the new Magpies disappeared, and Collingwood won Premiership number 14 in 1990, while Carlton added cup number 16 to our trophy cabinet in 1995. But only six years later, the Blues were plunged into the most desolate period in our history. Turmoil again at board level, years of poor recruiting, and an AFL investigation that heavily penalised the club for salary cap breaches, sent the Navy Blues into a financial tail-spin. As a direct result, we had endured five long years of heartbreak, and the shame of the first two wooden spoons in our proud history.

Now, however, as the second decade of a new century beckons, and the game continues to evolve and expand at an ever-increasing rate, the Old Dark Navy Blues are once more gathering momentum. Having cast aside the smug arrogance that clouded much of the club’s affairs in the last decades of the 20th century, and having served out a bitter penance, the club is looking forward with confidence to reclaiming its rightful place among the elite teams of the AFL.

And waiting in the wings is Collingwood, which continues to be one of the front-running clubs in the thriving national competition. Locked in a mutual loathing of each other, supporters of both clubs can now realistically look forward to the resumption of hostilities one September in the not too distant future. When that does happen, the glory and controversies of the past; the legendary hits and misses, and the individual exploits of heroes, will always be an inspiration.

Blueseum: Head to Head Record | Head to Head Record in Grand Finals | When Carlton and Collingwood were friends...